Notification and confirmation of a direct hit

The evening of Thursday, March 14, started out peacefully for Todd Noles, Hot Springs Village POA Superintendent of Roads and Sanitation. Noles was spending a leisurely evening with his family, watching television, when the announcer interrupted the broadcast and said a tornado struck Hot Springs Village. The Superintendent tried to contact the Police Department but could not get through due to the high 911 call volume. But he reached the fire department, who confirmed the direct hit.

Immediately mobilizing his crew to report to duty, he phoned Ken Unger, Director of Public Services. Meeting at the Minorca Facility, where Noles’s office is, he said, “My guys grabbed their chainsaws and equipment and went straight to work removing trees from the road.”

“Kelly Hale, [General Manager] Ken, and I went out with the crews to assess the damage and ensure no one was hurt. We directed the crews to clear the roads where we could safely do so, allowing emergency vehicles to knock on the affected houses’ doors.”

When he entered ground zero, he said it looked like a bomb had gone off. “It was a darkness I’ve never seen before. There was no light at all. It was just so dark around the area where Fresno intersects Balearic.”

HSVPOA Todd Noles Tornado Ground Zero eerily dark night of tornado
Eerie darkness prevailed in the HSV tornado-stricken area.

“The smell of pine in the air was overwhelming. There was no sound. You could not hear the insects. It was eerily quiet,” Noles stressed.

The battered landscape was dominated by fallen trees; many landed on others, still standing. Some of those trees fell later, and trees continued to fall.

“We are cutting trees right now – it is still dangerous with trees hung up on other trees that could fall on the roads. We are trying to take them down before they fall and hit somebody.”

GM Kelly Hale built relationships with outside entities

“I have never seen the amount of help from neighboring entities like I saw on Thursday night. That is a testament to our General Manager’s [Kelly Hale] relationship he has built with other entities. Their response was great; they were ready to help with machinery. I’ve never seen such a quick reaction. We began clearing roads.”

Downed powerlines made the situation even more dangerous

Many areas could not be cleared due to fallen powerlines, which made the situation even more dangerous. “We couldn’t clear some of the roads until the power was killed to the lines, and they were removed from the roads.”

Crews worked hard

“Crews work hard through the night. Entergy and First Electric were clearing the power lines. I was on the phone with the right-of-way superintendents of both power companies all night. They let me know where the electric lines were cleared so we could continue cutting. Communication was great.”

Calls are flooding the POA office

Noles said the POA office has been flooded with inquiries. General Manager Kelly Hale has asked people to refrain from calling the POA office for petty reasons as they are overwhelmed with the situation.

Community leadership, residents, churches, and workers stepped up

“We are fortunate and blessed to have quality workers committed to the community. We are also fortunate to have exceptional residents and others who have stepped up to help feed the workers and the affected residents. The churches helped out. It is truly amazing how people stepped up. The amount of help and support given was mind-blowing. We are also blessed to have the leadership to help us get through this disaster.”

Cleanup continues

“We are still working on cleanup. Right now, we are clearing the right-of-ways on the main arteries on Balearic, DeSoto, Minorca, and Viajero. We are also working to remove the trees lodged in other trees because this situation is dangerous. They could fall on powerlines, causing additional outages. These are the first priorities.”

Past twisters in the village

“We had two tornados back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. They both hit in the same area [not the same area as the 2024 tornado]. The same houses were affected by those two tornados. This happened down around where Andorra Drive and Ponce de Leon Drive intersects DeSoto Boulevard. The Andorra, San Augustine, and Sacedon neighborhoods were affected.”

Tornado sirens – what happened?

When asked about tornado sirens, the long-time employee said, “After the 2011 tornado, we were going to install a tornado siren in a central area, on a mountain on Letrista Drive. Saline County was paying for the siren. At that time, I worked in construction and operated a bulldozer to help clear out a horseshoe. It was determined that this central location would provide the best coverage.”

“Twenty or thirty angry people brought a petition to the POA office. They were worried about the noise levels and the siren being placed in close proximity to their houses.”

The POA abandoned the tornado siren plans because of public outrage. “That is what happened with the tornado sirens, and it wasn’t brought back up.”

Noles said that there are weather radios and weather notification apps for cell phones in today’s world.

Moving forward

“We hope to remove the brush and stumps from the main arteries by the end of this week or maybe early next week. We are going to work hard to get this cleaned up.”

“The POA is currently working with governmental agencies and our insurers to develop restoration plans for areas impacted by the tornado. Your patience as we navigate through this process is appreciated. Affected residents will be informed as plans are formalized.”

“We survived the 2010 tornado, and we survived 2011. There is no doubt we will get through this tornado, too.”

By Cheryl Dowden

Click here to contact the HSV Gazette.

Click here to join our private Hot Springs Village Property Owners Facebook group. Be sure to answer the entry questions.

Click here to visit the Explore the Village website.